Campground Accessibility: Issues and Recommendations

Outdoor environments offer unique psychological, physiological and spiritual benefits to users. According to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (Teasley, et al., 1998), 78 percent of people polled in the United States actively pursue outdoor activities, with camping being identified as one of the most popular.

People with and without disabilities setting up a tent. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Inquiry.People with disabilities enjoy the same array of personal and social benefits from outdoor recreational pursuits as people without disabilities. With 19.7 percent of the population of the United States having a disability (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001), it is imperative that facility managers and site planners meet the challenge of providing accessible outdoor facilities and activities without fundamentally altering the nature of the activity itself.

Camping offers a wide spectrum of benefits to the participant including a social experience with family and friends, escape from the stress of work and daily life through access to the natural environment, and a solitary experience where a person relies on their own abilities and knowledge to survive alone and without modern conveniences. The different types of camping opportunities available at a site should be evaluated relative to accessibility for people with different types of abilities and should foster independent use by a person with a disability.

Federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Architectural Barriers Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, require facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities. When the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) were released in 1991, outdoor recreation environments were not specifically addressed. The United States Access Board is developing accessibility guidelines for various recreation environments, including Outdoor Developed Areas. Currently, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Accessibility Guidelines on Outdoor Developed Areas (June 2007) under the Architectural Barriers Act is the best available information and should be used as a reference when making a camping area accessible.

Dispersion: Providing Accessible Opportunities Through Various Camp Site Types

T218.2 Camping Spaces
Number of Camping Spaces
Number of Accessible Camping Spaces
(Tent, RV, Shelters)
2 to 25
26 to 50
51 to 75
76 to 100
101 to 150
151 to 200
201 to 300
301 to 400
401 to 500
501 to 1000
2 percent of total
1001 +
20 plus 1 for
each 100 over 1000

According to the NPRM, "Campsite use requires specific equipment and a specially designed area may not be suitable for every use. An example might be if someone comes prepared to use a tent, they may not be able to use a paved RV site." Additionally, the NPRM identifies three types of camping spaces; RV/Trailer, Tent Pad and Platform, and Shelter/Cabin. Each type of accessible space offers a unique form of camping and is to be dispersed throughout the style of camping according to Table T218.2.

Dispersion enhances the opportunity for an individual with a disability to choose the campsite to his/her liking. Consider how visitors use the campground. Campers are not confined to their designated camping space, but often meander through the campground visiting with other campers, using amenities or getting exercise. A person with a disability may want to visit another camper's site for social interaction around a meal or the campfire. The site will need to be accessible to foster an independent visit by a person with a disability.

Often times the accessible campsites are located closest to the accessible amenities such as the comfort station or rest room. Not everyone wants to be located in the highest traffic area of the campground and may desire to be further away from the restrooms. Some campers choose to be close to developed amenities while others choose more secluded or remote camp sites. The key concept in dispersion is the element of choice. Enable campers to choose among camp site types where each type is accessible.

The most effective means of providing integrated accessible camping is to make all campsites accessible, adopting the principles of Universal Design. This approach will further facilitate socialization between campers with varying abilities as well as provide the widest array of site choices for all visitors.

Accessibility Specifications by Camp Site Type


An accessible recreational vehicle.  Photo courtesy of Winnebago.Recreational vehicle and tent camping in Idaho.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.Recreational vehicle and trailer camping spaces are designed for use by motorized vehicles, including motor homes, fifth wheels and tent campers. As with all campsites, site planners and facility managers should consider the type of equipment used at the site and the spatial needs of users. For example, a RV/Trailer campsite is required to have a minimum width of 20 ft (NPRM-Outdoors T318.2.1), which represents the minimum space needed for an RV/Trailer camper who also uses a wheelchair. The 20-ft minimum was arrived at by considering the following dimensions:

The width of an RV is assumed at 9-ft based on current dimensions in the RV industry.

An access aisle on the driver's side of the vehicle is to measure at a minimum of 3-ft, enabling a person using a wheel chair to access utilities located on the driver's side of the vehicle.

The clear space on the passenger side of the vehicle is to have a minimum width of 8-ft. A wheel chair lift for a motorized vehicle generally requires an 8-ft wide level space to operate in full capacity.

Shelter/Cabin Camping

Cabin camping spaces offer the user an overnight accommodation that requires little or no physical exertion in comparison to tent and RV camping, which require the set-up and break down of camping equipment.

Cabin spaces are regarded as part of the built environment and are required to be accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (Section 9:Transient Lodging).

If parking is provided, the cabin should have a minimum 16-ft wide parking space and an accessible route from the accessible parking to the accessible entrance of the cabin (NPRM-Outdoors T318.2.2).

Tent Pads & Platforms

A man using a wheelchair and a man standing set up a tent.  Photo courtesy of Wilderness Inquiry. Tent pads and platforms are designed for use by nonmotorized staked tent camping. The tent space will include a minimum of 48 inches of firm and stable clear space surrounding the tent so that people with mobility impairments, such as people who use wheelchairs or crutches, can access each side to stake the tent.

There is a need, however, for tent pegs to be inserted into the tent camping surface. An accessible tent site needs to provide the opportunity to stake tent pegs while providing a firm and stable surface. Aggregate material and fines can be firm and stable if compacted correctly and tent pegs can be inserted into this surface. The tent area can also be made of sand, dirt or grass as long as the surrounding surface is firm and stable. The camper can then use the firm and stable surface to maneuver while staking tent pegs in the softer, inaccessible material.

Additionally, the slope of the tent space should be no more than 1:50 in any direction (NPRM-Outdoors T318.3.3 ). The NPRM does allow a slope increase to 1:33 if required for proper drainage. A curb no less than 3 inches high should be provided on a tent platform to keep people and mobility devices from slipping off of the raised campsite (NPRM-Outdoors T318.3.4) An accessible route to the adjacent ground surface should connect the tent surface as well.

Status of Rulemaking for Developed Outdoor Areas

The U.S. Access Board is currently developing accessibility guidelines for access to outdoor developed areas under the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the Architectural Barriers Act. In 1999 the U.S. Access Board's Regulatory Negotiation Committee submitted recommendations for scoping and technical provisions for campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic overlooks, trails and beaches. In June 2007, the Access Board issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas covered by the Architectural Barriers Act.  The NPRM has been opened for a period of public comment on how the proposed guidelines will affect the federal land management agencies.  The Access Board will review the public comments and issue a final rule under the ABA.  At the time of this writing, there is no information available on the timeframe to issue a NPRM to incorporate the guidelines into the Americans with Dsabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.  The rulemaking process can be followed on the Access Board web site.

Going Above and Beyond

Campsite designated by the International Symbol of Accessibility, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana.The NPRM for Outdoor Developed Areas does not specify a particular design that is accessible. Facility designers are encouraged to go above and beyond these minimum guidelines to provide the best design for all users. Facility managers and landscape designers around the country are using their creativity to plan accessible campsites. The following proposed designs will require, at minimum, routine maintenance to ensure accessibility. The following is a sampling of how park and recreation agencies are planning for accessibility:

Indiana Department of Natural Resources

A new State Park offers Indiana the opportunity to plan for accessibility from the beginning of the design process. The proposed RV campsites will include accessible amenities such as a picnic table, a grill or fire ring, and water, electric and sewer utilities. The site is approximately 35-ft wide by 30-ft deep with an additional 12-ft wide parking area extending 6-ft past the length of the site. 6 by 6 timbers will border the site, enclosing and containing the compacted crushed limestone and fines that will be used as the surface material.

Cade's Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A combination RV/Tent campsite will be constructed with a concrete entrance pad for vehicle parking. The tent area will measure 20-ft by 20-ft with a surface of sand held in with 6 by 6 boards which will be flush with the bordering concrete. The large tent site allows for a wide variety of tent sizes and the sand presents a soft surface for sleeping. If the tent is smaller than 20-ft by 20-ft, the camper can place two edges of the tent flush with the edges of the sand to enable tent staking on at least three of the four tent sides. All campsite amenities will be accessible, including a picnic table, fire ring and pedestal grill. This is the largest of the proposed accessible sites, with dimensions of approximately 55-ft by 70- ft, allowing for tent camping and RV camping to occur at the same time. At this park, one of the most visited in the nation, facility managers recognize the need for larger and more varied camping spaces. This space includes consideration of a vehicle in tow behind the RV as well as additional vehicle parking spaces.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation

The use of a 20-ft by 20-ft concrete pad with the surface of the center area consisting of dirt is being considered as a possible design for making camping accessible. This site would be both a RV and a tent camping area; therefore, both types of equipment must be taken into consideration. During use by an RV, the center area of dirt will be covered. While in use by a tent, the tent will cover the center area and the user will be able to drive the stakes into the dirt. The concrete will form a firm and stable surface around the border of the tent.

Program Access at Camp Sites

Recreational vehicle and tent campsite in Oregon.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.Accessibility information should be easy to locate and regularly available to site users. A centrally located or highly visited area, such as a park or camp office, is an ideal place for site maps, brochures and other media, that provide information on campground accessibility. The information should include details of the number and location of accessible campsites, comfort stations, utilities, and any other accessible features. Publications and signage announcing programs or activities should include accessibility information as well.

Tactile or 3-D maps of campgrounds should be provided so that people who are blind or who have visual impairments can use the maps to orient themselves to their surroundings. A TTY (and staff trained on its proper use) should be available to receive reservations from TTY users. This ensures that TTY users will have the same opportunities as afforded others to reserve campsites by telephone. Nationwide reservation systems must also provide the same accommodation.

Campgrounds with only the minimum number of accessible sites must develop reservation policies for those sites. Such policies will indicate how the accessible sites are reserved and how long they are held when the campground is full to capacity. Are the sites only for use by people with disabilities? Or, are the sites held until the remainder of the campground is full and then they are assigned on a firstcome, first-served basis? What is the policy for the remainder of the campsites? If the non-accessible campsites are available on a first-come, first served basis (without prior reservations), the accessible sites should also be available on a firstcome, first-served basis. In a campground where not all sites are accessible, the International Symbol of Accessibility should identify the accessible sites.

One consideration for making camping opportunities inclusive of people with disabilities is to make all campsites accessible. When all sites are accessible, opportunities and choices are increased and there is no need for an additional reservation policy or for identifying accessible sites with the International Symbol of Accessibility. Other considerations include all non-accessible campsites complying with as many of the minimum guidelines as possible, identifying accessible sites with the International Symbol of Accessibility, dispersing accessible campsites among sun and shade areas and among varying attractions such as views and proximity to trails, lakes, pools, playgrounds, etc.

Amenities at Camp Sites

Amenities at camp sites are to be accessible and located on an accessible route.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.The NPRM on Outdoor Developed Areas also addresses amenities for recreation areas including picnic tables and grills. Campsite amenities are to be accessible and located on an accessible route. Grills, picnic tables, fire rings, water and electric utilities and restrooms or comfort stations are often located near the accessible campsite, but are not located on accessible surfaces. Often a facility will place a picnic table or a pedestal grill on grass or other naturally occurring surface just outside the area covered by the firm and stable surface. This creates both a difficult surface to maneuver and a change in level between the accessible surface and the non-accessible surface. More information on accessible picnic elements is available in the NCA Tech Sheet "Accessible Picnic Tables: Requirements and Recommendations."

People with disabilities are individuals with unique preferences and needs. Each person looks for different benefits from recreating. One cannot assume the abilities or preferences of a person with a disability simply because of previous experience with others with a similar disability. Incorporating accessibility into campsite policy and planning will enable people with varying abilities the opportunity to experience the unique social and personal benefits derived from camping.

The citation for this article is:

National Center on Accessibility. (Summer 2002, revised October 2007). Campground accessibility: issues and recommendations. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from